Facing dozens of media and numerous cameras Tuesday, Boston Bruins center David Backes knew this was no normal round of pregame interviews.
He was in St. Louis for the first time in a visiting uniform, taking on the Blues team he represented well during a 10-year run with the franchise.
“I’m going to try to control myself and my emotions and live in the moment, enjoy it,” said Backes, who spent 10 years with the Blues and five years as their captain before leaving last summer as an unrestricted free agent to sign with the Bruins. “There’s a few times in your career where you get special nights and tonight’s going to be a special night for me, no question.
“Coming back to a place where I spent 10 years, I’ve got a lot of great memories here. I’ve got my wife and daughter who flew in for the game and a lot of friends that will be sitting with them. I just want to enjoy every second of it, be in the moment and not look past it.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
Backes didn’t score in the Bruins’ 5-3 win, but did fight Joel Edmundson and racked up 17 minute in penalties. He also had two shots.
Backes patiently answered so many questions following the morning skate at Scottrade Center that he sweated through his dress shirt.
Backes, who signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins, has been a solid fit on the ice with 11 goals and 21 points in 35 games before Tuesday. He had a goal Saturday in his first game after a three-game concussion absence.
“He can score; he’s a 30-goal scorer,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “The physical side is the biggest thing, too. Grit and net-front presence is something they needed and they went out and got it.”
It was probably my best memory with the team, seeing how the city went absolutely nuts when we beat Chicago in the first round.
David Backes on the 2016 playoff run being his favorite Blues memory
Backes faced his former team earlier this season in Boston, as 4-2 win by the Blues on Nov. 22, but his admitted this game had been circled on his calendar since the season began. The Blues did their part by showing a first-period video tribute to their former captain, whose 206 goals and 460 points with the Blues both rank sixth in franchise history.
He is fifth in games played with 727.
Backes became much more than a hockey player during his time with the Blues. He became an all-star, played in the Olympics with Team USA, married his wife, Kelly Backes, and also had a daughter.
His love of animals led to numerous charity projects that included the “Barkin’ For the Blues,” a pet adoption project he started with his wife. The Blues made sure to include the promotion Tuesday in his first visit back.
“That’s one of the things that we’re really proud of,” Backes said. “We feel we made a tangible impact on a need that needed to be addressed in this city. It still has along way to go ... we’re pairing up families that wanted animals with animals that wanted families.
“They saved it for this night, like we needed more emotion and things to be added on.”
Backes’ departure from the Blues led to not only a roster vacancy, but opportunities for others to fill his role at center, front of the net, on the power play and penalty kill. Not to mention his veteran leadership in the dressing room.
How are the Blues different without Backes?
“A little smaller, obviously,” Blues forward Patrik Berglund said. “He was a big leader and a big body, very good player, good net-front guy and on the power play. He was a big part of this team for sure.”
I just want to enjoy every second of it, be in the moment and not look past it.
The tight-knit bonds of hockey teammates don’t typically end when they join other teams.
“I played with him my whole career here,” said Berglund, who joined the Blues full time in 2008. “It was a little weird in the beginning of the season to not have him around. A great guy — and as long as I live, I’ll miss him.”
Backes arrived back in St. Louis on Sunday.
“We built relationships over a long time and moving forward (they) will continue to be,” Backes said.
Backes helped ease the transition for Pietrangelo to become captain, but even Pietrangelo knows it will be strange playing against his good friend and fighting against him in the corners and front of the net.
“Like I said to him yesterday, it just feels like you’ve been hurt for 40 games,” Pietrangelo said.
Everything about his trip back to St. Louis seemed different to Backes, including having a locker in the tiny visitor’s dressing room.
“Ten years with the team in this building, getting dressed every day in that other room ... teammates and friends, all those things you don’t think about not taking with you when you go to a new city and re-establishing yourself,” he said. “You’re making those connections all over again. All the great people that we met and that were becoming family int his city didn’t go with us to Boston.”
Captain and coach
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and Backes developed a special relationship during their time together.
“He was great for me, five years working together as captain and coach,” Backes said. “He did give me a little bit of homework and he’s always got some sort of saying for every situation. Sometimes you shake your head leaving his office wondering what he just said, but there’s a lot of wisdom mixed in there and a lot of experience.
“He helped me become a better player and better person.”
Hitchcock also felt proud of the growth he saw from Backes both on and off the ice.
“He made himself a really good captain,” Hitchcock said. “He was always a good player for us, his sense of timing and his ability to turn games around, his vocal leadership was tremendous. But what he did more than anything is he learned to be a real captain, not just a book captain.
“That really helped us. That took our team quite frankly to a whole other level here. He’s been able to pass that information on to other people and it’s helped us.”
Backes’ favorite moments with the Blues came ironically in his final games here, during the team’s magical run to the Western Conference final last spring.
“It was probably my best memory with the team, seeing how the city went absolutely nuts when we beat Chicago in the first round,” Backes said. “In the conference final, the city was abuzz. It was electric and quite a feeling. It makes you hunger for more.”